Since starting at Colorado Association of Funders in May, I’ve had a difficult time explaining to politely interested friends and relatives what it is that I do. The best approach I’ve found thus far is to describe it in levels. “There is the community,” I begin, “and nonprofits support the community. Foundations support the nonprofits, and we, Colorado Association of Funders support the foundations.” All of this is accompanied by elaborate hand gestures. Most people smile, nod, and do not ask follow-up questions.
So, imagine my relief when I attended the United Philanthropy Forum conference in July. The conference attendees are all staff members at other regional associations (think Colorado Association of Funders but in other states or regions of the country) and national philanthropy-serving organizations. For three days, I was with people who understood perfectly what I do because they themselves do it, too. And so the conversations got deep. They got creative and constructive. We were able to dive into the nitty-gritty of our jobs and to talk big-picture strategy and approach. The people I met at the conference understood the challenges I was facing and helped me brainstorm solutions. They also pointed out new opportunities I hadn’t considered.
I sense a similar energy during Colorado Association of Funders’ peer and affinity group meetings; attendees have a chance to connect with people who do or fund what they do. There are groups for CEOs and executive directors, community foundation CEOs, human resources and operations professionals, and executive admin staff. There are also peer groups where individuals convene around a shared topic: the Impact Investing Forum, the Early Childhood Funders Network, and the Funders Learning Network on Early Childhood Mental Health.
The peer and affinity groups convene in person and over the phone anywhere from three to ten times each year. Some groups bring in speakers to stay informed on relevant issues. Others use the meeting time for informal questions of one another: Has anyone else experienced x? How are you all approaching y and z? Some groups are developing shared theories of change and others use the meeting time to update each other about recent initiatives.
In all these different formats, I sense amongst the meeting attendees the feeling I felt at the United Philanthropy Forum conference: I’m not alone. It’s great to know you have peers who can support you in your work. If you’d like to learn more about CAF’s peer groups and how to get involved, please contact me at